My New Year’s resolution has always consistently been to drink more water. What kind of resolution is that for a writer? (A good one. Do it.)
As a writer, the “WRITE MORE” or “GET PUBLISHED” are just permanent goals for any given moment of my daily life. Still, to get in the spirit of breaking in 2015, I thought it might be a good time to talk about writing communities and finding support for your writing before we all start gearing up for another year of writing.
Rule #1: Never write alone.
That is, physically you can write wherever and around whomever you please, (I guess), but never go at the whole writing process solo. That is a sure way to depression and madness. This is a desperate truth from a haggard mid-novel author.
Even if you are a stalwart fountain of words and ideas, at some point you are going to need people you trust to read and evaluate your first draft. You will always be too close to your story to edit everything entirely by yourself and getting different perspectives on what you write can help you refine what you clarify, omit, or change entirely.
I highly suggest joining or forming your own writing community, whether it be online (Chebk will be discussing this tomorrow!) or among a group of friends. Chebk and several other of my long-time friends are beta readers for my current WIP and they have done two wonderful things for me: 1) Dragged me up out of my mire of writing anxiety and sporadic convictions of “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL. DESTROY IT ALL,” and 2) Telling me straight up what works and what doesn’t.
It’s amazing how much more you will want to write when you have people clamoring for what’s coming next or helping you untangle the knots you’ve created for yourself, blocking you from solid solutions. HOWEVER, with these points in mind, it’s important to remember the next rule.
As with any feedback you get for your writing, you will get some good, some bad, some life-changing. Your writing group – no matter how close you are, even though they may the platonic light of your life (Chebk) – is not the be-all, end-all to any word, sentence, or draft. Take in the compliments readily (you’ll need it to get through the rest of your writing), but take every suggestion with a grain of salt.
Ideally, you know your characters and your story best. If someone doesn’t understand a character’s motivation or arc, it may be a good idea to start looking at where it would help to expand certain scenes to provide explanations or better transitions. But if someone suggest changing what a character does because they, as a reader, would prefer to see that story play out differently, it would be best to contemplate where they’re coming from as a reader, how this will change the overall story, and whether your gut feeling is to agree or disagree.
Rule #3: Listen anyway.
Story time, readers: The end of 2014 marks the second year of my novel-writing progress. Six months out of the first year were spent on a draft that will never see the light of day. I spent much of those six months fighting suggestions from Chebk and others that my then-world was just not working. Spoiler alert: They were right. I clung to the storyline I had in mind mostly because I was so afraid of starting over, of losing all that time and work.
It took a lot of hard thinking to decide that they, my readers, were right. A consensus of multiple people helped to bring it into perspective, as opposed to a single complaint. Together, they barraged me with questions that forced me to build a more solid environment for my story and characters. The result is a much stronger and more compelling plot.
You are the master of your story, but it doesn’t mean you are always right. Only you can decide what suggestions you ultimately take to heart, but if you continually ignore repeated suggestions from multiple parties to make certain specific changes, it may be to the detriment of your story.
As part of a writing community, the feedback needs to go both ways. It takes time, but read other people’s works and comment on them. You’ll find that careful reading of other’s drafts will help you realize what you need to work on in your own writing and help you look at your own work through a reader’s eyes.
There are a few rules that apply to being part of a writing community for other writers, too.
Rule #4: General, not specific.
As writers, we read other’s work very differently than a casual reader. It can make us both excellent and exasperating editors. I’ve seen it happen online, in upper-level academic courses, and in every writing forum possible: The worst thing you can do as a proofreader/reviewer/editor for another writer is to tackle their work from a perspective of “If I were writing this…”
The best thing you can do for another writer is to try to understand their intention as a writer and give suggestions that assist those intentions. For example, if you are critiquing a fantasy story about a damsel saving other damsels, it doesn’t do anybody any good if you suggest the damsel saves male knights because you think it inverts the trope in a stronger way. That’s not what the author is trying to do. Same goes for technique, (although technical writing and grammar should be held to general standards unless something experimental is happening and intended.)
Rule #5: Don’t be a dick.
There are a lot of us writers out there and it’s easy to feel compelled to competition. If it fuels your desire to write, so be it, but don’t take down a fellow writer just because you think they are better or worse than you are. The point of a writing community is for everyone to help one another. This means trying to point out strengths along with weaknesses. When working on the latter, work towards solutions, not a continual lampooning of poorly executed plot points or dialogue.
Once you find the community, you generally want to keep them around. You don’t have to fall over yourselves praising each other, but try to find common, honest ground where everyone feels safe to speak and to ask for advice and suggestions.
Tomorrow Chebk will be covering some online resources for finding or starting a writing community so you can all start 2015 with a strong support system for everything from flash fiction to full-blown novels.
Do you have any general rules as a reader for other writer’s works? Do you have any great writing community stories? Share it with us in the comments! We would love to trade works with people as well, if anyone’s willing! (You can see brief summaries of our WIPs here.)